Finland was ranked the world’s most literate nation in a 2016 study, so it makes sense that a sprawling 17,250 sq m, aesthetically pleasing library was described as the nation's birthday gift to its citizens.
Oodi Central Library is said to embody a new era of libraries in Finland and responds to the country’s 2017 update of its public libraries act, which established a mandate for libraries to promote lifelong learning, active citizenship, democracy and freedom of expression.
Launched in early December on the anniversary of Finland's 101st year as an independent country, the building was designed by Finnish architecture firm ALA Architects, led by Juho Grönholm, Antti Nousjoki and Samuli Woolston.
Only one third of the space within the library is used to hold books — a relatively modest 100,000 volumes at any time — however thanks to online services and a team of book-sorting robots, users of the library will have access to nearly 3.4 million items at the click of a mouse, making Oodi the principal service point within a much larger, distributed library system.
The shift in priorities away from storage of a large static collection of books meant that Oodi’s librarians and designers were able to reconsider the role of the library.
By entering into an extensive programme of workshops and consultation with library users, they chose instead to explore new and more inclusive ways of creating access. The resulting library is an indoor extension of public space, a civic “living room” that offers facilities such as a movie theatre, recording studios and a makerspace, access to public services, exhibitions and community events in addition to books.
Access to public library services is a statutory right for all citizens and Finns are amongst the world’s most enthusiastic users of public libraries: the population of 5.5 million people borrows close to 68 million books a year – just over 12 items per person.
Libraries in Finland have also expanded into the sharing economy, offering users to borrow physical items, such as sports equipment, power tools, dinner services and other items of occasional use.
On its opening day, the library attracted some 55,000 visitors. Anna-Maria Soininvaara, the director of Oodi Library said a total of 12,000 items were borrowed during the opening, and many new library cards were made.
Around 420,000 people, equivalent to roughly 60% of the city’s population, visited the library in its first month.
"It is wonderful that Finland is becoming known worldwide as a pioneer of library services. We may be the only country in the world where people queue to gain entry to a library," says Soininvaara happily
Oodi's second floor features 3D printers, vinyl cutters, sewing machines, overlockers, a coverstitch machine, a sewing machine for embroidery, badge machines, customer computers, a photocopier, learning facilities and workrooms.
Jan Vapaavuori, Mayor of Helsinki said: “Library services are an investment in people. By developing our people we are preparing our society for the coming era, where knowledge, ideas and culture are the commodities that a successful city will trade with the world. The principle that knowledge is for everybody is a long-established component of the success of Finnish society and essential foundation of a city built on trust between government and citizens.”